• Robert Spicer

Charity law

Charity law

This is an industry in itself. Charity law is a massive subject in its own right, overlapping significantly with company law, trusts law and tax law. The basic motivator of the charity law industry is tax avoidance.

The role of charity law as an element of the traditional legal system, and as a commodity, is illustrated by the cost of charity law textbooks, for example:

Picarda, Law and Practice Relating to Charities: £395

Luxton, Law of Charities £225

Charity Market Monitor £370

Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations A Reference Handbook £230

Top 3000 Charities £304

Charity law reflects the institutionalisation of philanthropy as part of the edifice of English property law. The complexity of charity law, and its close relationship with tax and company law, reflects an increasing reliance on “charity” as the gains made by the welfare state are rolled back.

English charities are granted fiscal privileges by the law. These privileges are not universal but are granted to selected charities, for example Eton College, the British Goat Society and the British Society of Dowsers. Charitable status may be withheld from organisations aimed at changing the law.

The key to understanding the true role of charity law is that it provides for tax exemptions. As with most other issues surrounding the English legal system, the answer is money.

Charity, it has been commented, involves the expectation of gratitude and admiration for the giver and the stigmatising status for the receiver of being a beggar. These concepts have no place in relationships based on social and economic rights rather than vague moral obligations on the part of the haves towards the have-nots.

Theoretical approaches to charitable work by lawyers are ambivalent, to say the least. For example, in October 2006 the President of the International Bar Association, writing in The Lawyer, made the following points:

  • Many countries do not have the benefit of the rule of law.

  • The effects of this can be measured in a lack of certainty for investment.

  • This commercial reality conspires to prevent the economic fillip which these countries so badly need.

  • Internationally focused pro bono work can advance the rule of law.

  • There is a need to emphasise more strongly the nexus between respect for the rule of law and the benign investment climate which it necessarily presents to the international community.

  • Social and economic stability is a prerequisite for the attraction of investment.

  • The legal profession can do much to help countries construct the framework of the rule of law and help to bring about an environment in which international investors can bring a much-needed injection of capital.

These statements can be seen as an overtly expressed link between pro bono, profit-making and successful capitalism.

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